Edward Snowden, the NSA whistle-blower turned state fugitive, is the perfect candidate for an Oliver Stone film, heavy as they usually are on corrupt government institutions and heroes who risk everything in pursuit of the almighty truth.
Bringing the notoriously staid Snowden to life, however, is a more complicated task, one that Stone and his star Joseph Gordon-Levitt can't quite nail. In a change of pace for Stone movies, the narrative here is rather straightforward – we follow Snowden as he joins the CIA, becomes disillusioned with how far the state is willing to go to protect its interests, and then … well, he sort of quits the spy game, but basically goes back to working for the CIA until he can leak some data to the press.
Stone tries to enliven the by-the-number proceedings with some far-out casting choices that just happen to work (hi, Nicolas Cage and Zachary Quinto), but a committed Gordon-Levitt struggles against the weak script. As a hero, Snowden is kind of paranoid and kind of brave and stupidly smart, but we never get to a level of understanding of why the man did what he did. And for a film about how the eye in the sky is watching us 24/7, Stone's visuals are disappointingly lacking the gonzo aesthetics he displayed in everything from JFK to Natural Born Killers.